David Epston mentioned to me that you are very much unsure about the relationship with your sister, Kerry.
I also have a brother and I think he feels very much the same way. We once had a very close relationship. This was utterly shattered but thanks to the gradual improvement since my discovery of ‘anti-anorexia’ (I am trying to avoid sounding evangelistic about this), our relationship is definitely improving.
Before anyone was brave enough to label me ‘anorexic’, I became totally withdrawn from my friends and family. My brother, busy with his own world, seemed not to notice me at all. I could not understand why he never spoke to me. I didn’t understand that it was probably because I didn’t speak to him. This seeming lack of interest in me increased my feelings of worthlessness as I felt that he was not sufficiently interested in me to be bothered. I was very moved when my cousin told me as we prepared for my 17th birthday that he noticed my dramatic loss of weight and was upset by it.
I sometimes think that one of anorexia’s purposes is to get those who love you to prove it by seeing how far you have to go in your self-destruction before they reach out and say – ‘Stop, I love you too much for this to happen!’
After the issue of anorexia was confronted, from my brother’s point of view, things became more difficult. In a couple of family therapy sessions that we tried, he was pretty monosyllabic so I had no idea of his thoughts and feelings.
My outburst over meal times became increasingly loud, aggressive and disturbing. Grant would spend his evenings trying hard to avoid me. I think that he was probably pretty scared of the monster I became.
As I started feeling better about myself and my mind became freer (at times) from Anorexia, things begin to improve. Unfortunately my brother was the last to see this. Family situations were tense and I would often jump down his throat for any slight oversight or misdemeanor on his part. He wouldn’t retaliate, which on occasions would aggravate m &endash;e further. However, my brother could not see into my mind and see when I was ‘safe’ to talk to. So he didn’t at all.
My hostility towards Grant triggered my lack of toleration of his imperfection but was probably rooted in my jealousy of his relatively carefree and happy life.
Unfortunately I have found it very hard to talk to my brother about any of this. It requires me to be free of anorexia, relaxed and happy. At these times the last thing I want to do is destroy the moment by remembering what it is like when I’m not free. It is rather embarrassing to admit. What do you say?
I know that you are probably pretty confused as to what to say to Kerry and how to support and help her. Remember she is still the sister that you grew up with, even if she has forgotten herself. I think I forgot who I was. Reminiscing with my family helps this heaps. Constant positive affirmation is very helpful. Even is she rebukes you at the time, she will remember the comment and ¡ smile about it later. A few afternoons ago, my brother made me feel like he really admired me. This felt wonderful. I hope I will soon be able to let him know how much I admire him.
A feeling that I have felt quite strongly when I have had low points is the need for someone to hold and protect me. A male friend who filled my big brother’s role for a while, spent many evenings just holding me, which would actually let me relax. The safety I felt would allow me to physically relax and would actually anchor me down to watch a video or TV – something I needed to do but unless someone “made me”, I wouldn’t or couldn’t.
For me, the need to be loved, particularly by my brother was very intense. Very often when I have been feeling small and scared, I would have loved my brother to notice, to speak to me, to hug me.
It sounds as though Kerry is making some big steps. Don’t let displays of old anorexic behaviour convince you to otherwise. The road back can be longer and more painful than the decline.
Most of all hate anorexia but love your sister. I was trying to be perfect for my brother because I loved him so much. I think Kerry has been trying to do the same.